Manager Buck Showalter must take his pre-game questions black, because this one wasn’t sugarcoated.
A reporter asked Showalter about Alfredo Simon, who would pick up his 17th save later in the day.
“Based on what you’ve seen, is this guy a major league closer?”
“Never overlook an orchid while searching for a rose,” Showalter replied. “We’ll see. You see the stuff and see why he’s had success. Who knows? We’ve got to know. We don’t want to be guessing about it. When we get through the end of this year, we need to be able to make that evaluation. I like what I’ve seen so far. He’s certainly what they look like.”
Fast-forward to the ninth inning. Alexei Ramirez singles with one out and the Orioles leading, 4-1.
I lean forward and ask another reporter, “Do you really think Showalter likes what he’s seen so far?” I just can’t imagine that he appreciates the drama.
On the next pitch, Ramon Castro launched a two-run homer to jeopardize Jeremy Guthrie’s much-deserved victory.
Simon retired the last two batters on a line drive and fly ball. Guthrie got his win, Simon got his save, and Showalter got another opportunity to discuss Simon.
“If you look at the experience level he’s had closing games, trying to finish people off, not getting in too big a hurry with the count...he played to the strength of Castro. He’s got him set up for a little different situation there. But sometimes guys like that without a whole lot of experience try to finish it too quickly instead of making a pitch at a time,” Showalter said.
He doesn’t always speak in complete sentences, which makes transcribing him a bit challenging. Something else we’re learning about the new manager.
“The common denominator with great closers is you do it one pitch at a time,” he continued. “You never assume anything. You don’t get ahead of yourself. And sometimes they get in too big a hurry to finish off an inning. Next thing you know, they’re making it more difficult than it should be.”
Showalter will continue evaluating Simon over these last two months. Here’s what I’ve seen in the right-hander’s last 10 outings:
Nine runs and 15 hits in 11 2/3 innings. Baserunners allowed in eight of those appearances (he struck out the only batter he faced on Aug. 3.)
Simon’s ERA is up to 4.42, but he’s converted 17 of 20 save chances. He qualifies as one of the biggest surprises of 2010, because absolutely no one predicted that he’d total this many saves. But the tightrope act could eventually wear on Showalter, a no-nonsense guy who might prefer a closer who doesn’t work with a safety net.
Michael Gonzalez also needs to be evaluated in that role, since he’s being paid $12 million. And the Orioles must decide this winter whether “closer” should again be added to their shopping list.